iPad 2: not much, but more than enough?
There are lots of reports today that the iPad 2 is in production and will be officially announced and in US stores soon (although the signs are that the UK will have to wait a couple of months, just as we did for the launch of the original iPad.)
Now the iPad 2 story has been picked to death by news outlets and tech blogs almost since the day after the original iPad was released, and frankly I’m sick to death of speculation about what it might or might not contain in the way of new features. It used to be accepted in computing that however long you waited, however wise you were in selecting a PC to buy, it didn’t matter: it would still be out of date the day after you finally put down the money. These days it’s even worse: the speculation about new products (and particularly Apple products) is so incessant that the product feels old hat and is yesterday’s news some six months before it even exists.
Hence now, as the iPad 2 launch finally grows near, we’re seeing stories like ReadWriteWeb’s “iPad 2.0: Can Faster, Thinner, Lighter Compete with Android Tablets?” which are taking the “oh – is that it? Is there no more?” line of disappointment.
To recap the story (which itself is similar to hundreds of others about iPad 2), it seems that – as the headline states – the new iPad will be faster, lighter and thinner; and that it will gain at least one front-facing camera for use with Apple’s Facetime video conferencing software. And, err, that’s about it. It might have slightly improved screen resolution, but it won’t be anything of the order of an upgrade to the stunning Retina-level display debuted on the iPhone 4 last July.
As the ReadWriteWeb article asks, “Where is the “wow” factor, though?” The reality has been thoroughly eclipsed by the wild speculation online for the last six months, which has been so overheated that frankly an iPad 2 that doesn’t boast artificial intelligence, come with a free jetpack and hovercar, and is altogether more capable than you are of running your life and pleasuring your partner is just going to be a bit of a damp squib.
But then, what do Apple really need to do with the iPad to make the follow-up sell like hot cakes? The answer, ironically, is: as little as possible.
A lot of people I know were very interested in the iPad when it launched last year, played with it in the Apple Store – but pointedly held off buying. “I’ll wait for the second generation model”, I heard time and again. I’m going to dub this “the Windows Mindset”, because I think it stems from peoples’ experiences with previous Windows products where the first release of anything (including some versions of Windows itself) has all too often been shockingly poor and bug-ridden, ill-developed and barely good enough to be labelled a work-in-progress.
No one in their right minds gets the first gen version of such flawed products, waiting instead for the second gen when the problems are all worked out. That way, they gain some extra, new features in the process and possibly a lower price to boot. (However, anyone holding off the original iPad expecting prices to go down over time doesn’t know Apple at all: the company sees itself as a premium product retailer and doesn’t discount or drop prices, until a given model stops being at the “top” of the line and is downgraded to a budget position while a new model takes up the top price spot.)
But I think with Apple, that “Windows Mindset” is irrelevant. Apple’s products these days seem to be good to go and pretty much flawless from the very first generation. Even the very first iPhone remains serviceable and problem-free to this day, and my own iPhone 3G (the second gen) is absolutely perfect for my needs despite its relative age. In fact, strangely enough it’s not the older iPhones that have been problematic but the most recent iPhone 4 that’s had all the issues and which I still wouldn’t personally buy as a result.
As far as I’m concerned, Apple certainly nailed the iPad concept right from the start, but then they had to – failing to make the iPad a huge hit from its very start would have killed the entire tablet concept stone dead and left the company with a Newton-shaped hole in their accounts. The iPad had to be perfect and glitch-free from the get-go, and … It was. (There were a few early software issues with wifi connectivity at the start but these were quickly fixed; I’m not aware of any hardware problems in the range whatsoever.) Compare that to the other manufacturers like Samsung or those using the Android OS who are having to scramble to get into the market after the iPad’s success, and who have ended up fielding typical flawed first gen tablets in line with the “Windows Mindset”.
So those people who held off on getting the original iPad because of potential flaws have been thwarted – they could have bought nine months ago with peace of mind, it turns out. The only thing now that stops them from buying is the fact that the first generation is genuinely approaching end of life as a premium product, and the iPad 2 is nigh. Who wants something that looks so 2010 when the 2011 model is upon us? In other words: Apple could pretty much bring out the same product again, whack a ‘2’ on it in white correction fluid, and they’d still unlock that huge potential market of people who have been waiting for months and kicking themselves for their caution.
Given that Apple really doesn’t have to do that much to get the delayed first-time purchasers and the eager second-time upgraders to shell out their cash for any new model they put out, it’s no wonder that they’re sticking with pretty much low-key tinkering around the edges: “thinner and lighter” addresses one of the few criticisms of the original iPad made last year; “faster” is mandatory for any new computer product. And the camera is really only there because Apple are pushing Facetime as an international standard in order to dominate the video conferencing market; it’s already on the latest iPhone and iPod Touch, and also available on the Mac computer ranges, so it’s important for the growth of Facetime that iPad users now swell the ranks. Hence the camera addition – it’s about Apple’s ambitions for Facetime, not about the iPad.
But beyond that, why should Apple do any more? For one thing, it presumably leaves them with more ideas and potential left over that they can start planning to add to the functionality of iPad 3, rumours about which you should be able to start reading within minutes of iPad 2 going on sale. (I sometimes think that Apple use the internet blogs and forum speculation as a useful arm of their R&D department to generate new ideas to pursue – in which case, if they do, good on them. Listening to customers and delivering at and above their expectations is what makes a successful company.) For another, if any iPad 2 is already likely to be a sell-out, then why even try and over-excite demand when there is no hope of the supply chain being able to meet it for months to come? You’ll only frustrate potential buyers and possibly drive them into the arms of other manufacturers that way.
Another reason for not wanting to fiddle with the iPad too much at this point is that sticking with the basic model and just tinkering around the edges will exude an overwhelming confidence in the product: “Yes, it’s so good, why mess with it? It’s a winner, tried and tested and proven, all but perfect – come on in, the water’s fine.” It’s reassuring to potential buyers to see a manufacturer serene and confident in their product to the point of smugness, whereas too much tinkering can give the impression of insecurity, of basic problems, or just that any buyer is going to find their purchase out of date in five seconds because of the latest tweak.
In fact Apple’s only potential problem is if they really can’t actually think of any way of improving it in the future, if they can’t think of any more features to add to later iPad models. And the creative well does go dry at times, even for Apple. The development of iPod range, for example, is looking like being reduced to shuffling round the colours and bumping up the memory chips because there’s not much else you can do to them now; the iPhone 4 also lacked any big new ideas and indeed many of its well-publicised problems (antenna-gate; the failure-to-fly of the white model; problems with the all-glass case) seem to be the result of having to push things too far, too soon just to be able to come up with something that could go on the press releases boasting the all-important new features critical to moving units of any new retail product.
But Apple’s problem is that the iPhone as it stands is pretty much perfect, at least as perfect as the current state of technology allows and in accordance with people’s actual requirements of a mobile smartphone. It will take a seismic shift in thinking to produce something genuinely new to simulate a whole new growth spurt – as big a shift as the one the original iPhone itself wrought on the mobile phone handset market. Does anyone have any genuinely new ideas, or have we restored equilibrium for now?
The iPad didn’t so much create a seismic shift as magic a completely new market out of thin air. The iPad now defines the tablet market; and it did so by delivering everything that people wanted out of such a device, even if they didn’t know it before they saw it. But if the iPad already does everything, and near-perfectly at that, then where does it go from here other than the odd new feature and refinement of form factor and newer chips that allow older models to be slowly dropped from support by later releases of iOS and apps to cajole people to upgrade eventually?
That’s already the reason why, when the “faster, thinner, lighter” and camera-enabled new iPad comes out, I won’t be buying – for the very simple reason that I love my current iPad and there’s no improvement I need to it. But hopefully those hold-outs who recoiled from buying a first gen product will be lining up at the checkouts and joining the club, and that’ll do very nicely for Apple’s corporate accounts in 2011.
The iPad 2 may turn out to be “the very least Apple can do” in a second generation product, but that’s likely to be more than enough.